Brian Skinness, President
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of natural essential oils from aromatic plants for therapeutic purposes. It includes simply smelling the oils, but more often involves the application of oils to the body through a variety of application methods.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the volatile oils that are produced by aromatic plants. They are the quintessential expression of the plant. Imagine the growing season of the plant; the sunshine, rain, wind, soil and environment all combine to produce the oil in the plant.
How are Essential Oils Produced?
Ideally, aromatic plants are harvested when the essential oil is at the peak percentage in the flower, leaves, root, peel or wherever the plant stores its oil. After cleaning and sorting, the aromatic plant material is loaded into a still for the steam distillation process. Water is heated that rises through the plant material, helping to evaporate the essential oils that is carried out with the steam. As the steam recondenses, the oil and water naturally separate. Typically the oil fl oats and is skimmed off the surface of the water.
What makes the difference in quality?
The most prevalent myth is that if an essential oil is 100% pure, then it can be used for Aromatherapy. The truth is that purity is a relatively easy standard to meet, but the quality of pure essential oils varies wildly.
The soil. Each plant grows best with an optimum pH balance and the right nutrients in the soil. (The optimum soil mix is preferably attained through organic methods, but commercially it is done through chemical fertilizing methods.)
The seed. Seeds are harvested from plants. If the plant has a history of producing excellent, vigorous plants with good yield, the seeds will be preferred. Commercially produced seeds are subjected to chemical fertilizing and pesticides, not the seeds themselves, but the plants that produce them.
The growth. Plants must be protected from weeds, pests and disease. Again, this can be accomplished through chemical pesticides or through a more intimate understanding of the needs of the plant that can keep it strong to resist certain diseases. The introduction of “friendly” insects, or birds, etc. can be used reduce the harmful insects. Weeding may need to be done by hand to avoid the use of herbicides.
The harvest. Each plant has a peak season to be harvested, as well as a peaktime of day.Take the rose for example, it must be harvested during the dawn, before the sun rises. As soon as the sun rises, the rose naturally releases its fragrance into the air and the yield during distillation will be significantly reduced. Careful checking by an experienced grower will help insure a good harvest.
The preparation. Plants may be harvested by hand or machine. For an exceptional quality oil, the harvested plant material is inspected and sorted as the still is loaded. Any dead or foreign material, unwanted plants, or portions thereof, are removed so that only the premium material is loaded into the still. The importance of this step cannot be underrated. As an example, the juniper berry yields the finest and the safest oil; however, the needles have a higher yield. If a portion of the distillation includes needles, the yield will be much higher, resulting in a lower priced, but inferior oil.
The distillation. A good distillation begins with good water from the earth and not the tap. During distillation the temperature and pressure can be adjusted. High temperature and pressure is used commercially because the small loss of constituents from the heat does not outweigh the value of the faster speed of distillation. Quality distillation requires a slower, lower temperature process that maintains the more subtle and volatile components of the oil. The presence of the widest range of naturally occurring constituents is fundamentally what makes the difference between commercial and medicinal quality essential oils.
The handling. After capturing the essential oil from steam distillation, commercial oils are often subjected to a standardization process. Essential oils have a worldwide market and are traded by the barrel commercially to large food and other manufacturers. These customers expect a similar essential oil for their manufacturing process. They develop specifications for percentages of the main components that the suppliers must meet in order to make the sale. For example, the specification requires 42% linalol acetate in Lavender, for example, and the distillation produces 45%, then 3% is extracted and saved to be added to another batch whose linalol acetate is below 42%. Do you see how this oil is still 100% pure? Yet this standardization moves away from the natural state of oil that was produced by the plant. When the oils are preserved in their natural state without standardization, they are referred to as “in-totum”. Medicinal quality essential oils are in-totum and while they may vary from batch to batch, they are presented as nature intended.
The distribution. It is certainly important that no one in the chain of distribution adds any adulterants or dilatants to the oils, but there are even more subtle factors that I believe can affect the quality of an essential oil. Essential oils have an uncanny intelligence to them. They have a way of making their way into the hands of the right people. The best oils seem to engender personal growth in the people who come in contact with them. I have seen people who have a strong identity with their problems repel from the oils. Those who are ready to change are drawn to them.
Afterward. It is remarkable and profound to me when I begin to comprehend the amount of energy that is contained in an oil...the sun, water, wind and earth...the amount of plant material required to get a small amount of oil...the time and effort that people devote to growing, harvest and distillation...and finally to realize that these oils come from all over the planet to one location and are fairly attainable by almost anyone. It is a sign of our time that has never been repeated in mankind’s history... amazing!
How are Essential Oils used?
It is very easy and perhaps the mildest form of application to simply open the cap and smell an essential oil. Inhalation can be benefit- icily for its stimulating or relaxing affects, since the limbic system is directly influenced by signals from the olfactory nerves. Olfactory nerves are located in your nose and the process of smelling is referred to as “Olfaction” or the “Olfactory Process.” Diffusion is also a form of the inhalation application, but can have additional benefits, such as cleansing the air in a larger environment. There are different types of diffusers, but basically they all fall into two main categories. They either evaporate of nebulize the oil. The evaporative style of diffuser is normally less expensive and uses heat or air to force the evaporation of the oil into the environment. The nebulizing style of diffuser also uses air, but rather than simply forcing evaporation, the air is used to turbulently break up the oil into very fine molecules, resembling smoke, that is projected into the air.Cutaneous.
When essential oils are applied to the body, whether diluted with a carrier or applied “neat” (undiluted), it is considered a cutaneous application. This can be done by applying a drop to the wrist or other pulse point, massaged onto the feet, full body massage as well as using essential oils in a bath. Among the most common reasons for cutaneous applications include pain relief and relaxation.Mucosal.
This form of application further blurs the line between cutaneous and internal use. It is a more intimate and focused application that should be approached with a higher level of caution and understanding. With proper knowledge, essential oils are utilized for oral, nasal, vaginal and rectal application. Mucosal applications mostly require dilutions and should be administered with common sense by those with more than just casual knowledge.Ingestion.
While much literature was developed for the cutaneous application of essential oils, research conducted in France was focused on the ingestion of essential oils. Of primary interest was the infection fighting capacity of essential oils. This level of use, must again be approached with common sense. Some oils should not be used internally under any circumstance, others should be avoided by people with certain conditions, such as high blood pressure and epilepsy, or during pregnancy. However, if you consider that you are using a little essential oil when you flavor an Italian dish with Basil and Oregano, you can begin to look at oils in a slightly nutritional way. For oils that are GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe), the rule of thumb is 1-3 drops, 1-3 times a day for a period of 3 days to 2 weeks. Please do your own research and do not take essential oils indiscriminately.